July 24, 2022

Salvation for All July 24th, 2022

Passage: Acts 8:1-8

God of wisdom, as we listen to the Scriptures today, fill our hearts and minds with your living Word, so that our faith in Christ will grow stronger as we build our lives on him. Amen.

New Testament Reading:   Acts 8:1-8

Today’s New Testament reading from the book of Acts opened with this line, “And Saul approved of their killing him.”, which leaves us with three questions, who was Saul, who was being killed and who were the people that were killing him. To answer that we’ll have to go back to the end of the previous chapter where we’re told “When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.”

What we learned earlier was that the disciple Stephen had been preaching the word of the Lord to the crowds in Jerusalem and many people were coming to accept Jesus as their Saviour. The leaders of the Temple in Jerusalem saw their power over the people being eroded and, in an effort to stop Stephen, had him charged with blaspheming against God. He was then forced to defend himself against those charges. Stephen did such a good job that those same leaders were unable to contradict what he said and so in frustration they had him stoned. And one of those who witnessed the stoning was a man by the name of Saul, who, we’re told, “approved of their killing him”

This is quite shocking to us as now we’re much more familiar with Saul by his Roman name, Paul. Later on in Acts we’ll hear about him meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus and because of that encounter becoming one of the strongest defenders of the Christian faith. Paul would also go on to become the author of thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. The Paul we hear about the mostly was all about following Jesus with love and humility but earlier in his life he was all about following the laws of the land.

So, for the moment he’s still going by the name Saul, and we’re told, “But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.” He would later come to regret this harassment. In five of the books of the New Testament which he wrote he refers to his actions with great shame.

But because of what Saul, and the other leaders of the Temple did, Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, tells us, “That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria” It wouldn’t have seemed like it at the time but the persecution of the Jerusalem church had the opposite effect to what the oppressors desired, instead of crushing those upstart followers of Jesus, their message that he was the Messiah for the world began to spread far beyond the gates of Jerusalem. Through the actions of Saul and the council, God was fulfilling what were Jesus’ final words to his disciples just before his ascension into heaven to be with the Father, “‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’”

So, Luke tells us that, “Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them.” Now this Philip was one of the seven men who had been chosen by the members of the church in Jerusalem to look after the day to day running of the affairs of the church. As the numbers of the church grew on a daily basis the original apostles found themselves becoming too busy with looking after the needs of its members to spend as much time as they should on preaching the word and praying. So, the decision was made to appoint seven men, “of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom,” (Acts 6:3), to take care of the physical needs of the church members. Philip was one of these seven, along with Stephen, whom we talked about over the last few weeks and had just been stoned to death for his faith.

And now we’re told that, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria”. That doesn’t mean anything to us today, but it would have been a shock to the people living in Jerusalem in first century AD. The region of Samaria was north of Jerusalem and originally been part of Israel. Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the Assyrians had conquered the area and settled there. The remnant of the Jewish people who remained after the conquest intermarried with the Assyrians and their religion became a mix of Jewish and pagan rituals. Because of this, the early Jews did not like the people who lived in this area and had no dealings with them.

One time, when Jesus was in the Temple in Jerusalem and was debating with the Pharisees, telling them that they were wrong in not believing that he was the Son of God, they chose these words as the most insulting remark they could think of, “‘Aren’t we correct in saying that you are a Samaritan and are possessed by a demon?’” (John 8:48)

But that didn’t deter Jesus. In John’s Gospel, we read about Jesus passing through Samaria while traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee. To get from Jerusalem to Galilee, the shortest route was to travel through Samaria, but the Jews would often walk the long way around to avoid the Samaritans.  But that was not the case for Jesus, and it was while passing through Samaria that Jesus had that encounter with the Samaritan women at the well where he tells her that he is the living water. As a result of this conversation John tells us, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So, when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’” (John 4:39-42)

And that wasn’t the only time which Jesus ministered to the Samaritans. The Apostle Luke in his gospel tells us, “On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’” (Luke 17:11-19)

No doubt the early disciples weren’t happy with Jesus’ ministering to the Samaritans. They had had problems with the Samaritans even when they were with Jesus. The Apostle Luke speaks of this incident, “Now when the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set out resolutely to go to Jerusalem. He sent messengers on ahead of him. As they went along, they entered a Samaritan village to make things ready in advance for him, but the villagers refused to welcome him, because he was determined to go to Jerusalem. Now when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But Jesus turned and rebuked them.” (Luke 9:51-55) The Samaritans refused to let Jesus and his disciples spend the night in their village and because of this James and John would have gladly destroyed them with fire.

But that was not the will of Jesus, it was his wish that all of mankind would be saved and come to repentance. And that is what he was trying to teach his disciples, that God loves all the world. When he was giving an example of loving one’s neighbour, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. The man who had been beaten and robbed and left for dead at the side of the road had been ignored by two of his countrymen, a priest, and a Levite, only a Samaritan came to his rescue.

And that’s what we need to remember, God us wants to reach all people. God’s will for every person on the planet is for him or her to repent of their sins and believe in the gospel. Many times, some of the events in the Bible seem shocking, but even today they have much to instruct us. We’re to pray and to talk to everyone we can concerning God’s will for them—that they should repent, believe, and be saved.

God desires all people to be saved. In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to Timothy he writes, “God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) There is only one God, and that means there is only one plan of salvation, his plan. God has appointed his Son, Jesus, to be the “mediator” between himself and sinners. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead in order to heal the gap between a holy God and sinful man.

Let us Pray:

Dear Lord, Jesus prayed that all people would come to know you as their only way to eternal salvation. Today we pray as Jesus did and ask that you help those who have yet to give their lives to Christ. We ask that you give them opportunities to see the light and glory of Jesus Christ. May your love and power reveal themselves to them, so that they will someday come to know you. Amen.

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